Better Call Saul: “Winner” (S4E10)

Well, we’ve reached the end of Season 4, and as usual it feels like it flew by. The 10-episode season structure of Better Call Saul is both a blessing and a curse. I hate that it goes by so quickly, as I would happily watch more, but limiting each season to 10 episodes keeps things tight and avoids the problem that plagues many shows with longer seasons. Better Call Saul gives us exactly what we need and nothing more—nothing is extraneous, nothing is filler. Simply put: it’s all good, man.

Last week was tense as hell; this week, in true BCS fashion, they just made everything hurt a lot. This week’s teaser had me in tears by the end, and I knew from the outset of “Winner” (written by Peter Gould & Thomas Schnauz and directed by Adam Bernstein) that we were in for an emotionally devastating ride. In a flashback, Chuck returns alive and well, vouching for Jimmy as he becomes a member of the New Mexico Bar Association (with Kim and Ernie sitting behind him for support). This is, of course, the same room in which years later Jimmy and Kim would tear Chuck to shreds (“Chicanery,” S3E5), and it’s not the last time we’ll visit this location during the episode.

At Jimmy’s celebratory party, Ernie is doing some pretty atrocious karaoke to “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” I can’t criticize, though, because I too sound like a dying cat when I sing and Ernie is really putting his heart into it. Also, I love Ernie and he can do no wrong. Jimmy wants Kim to duet with him to “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which I would have loved to see, but she’s not into it. She wants them both to do solo performances—solo karaoke practitioners, together, if you will. To my absolute surprise and delight, we see Chuck at a karaoke bar, though it’s very much not his scene and he’s getting ready to leave. But Jimmy wants him to stay a while longer and cut loose a bit. It would seem that this is occurring soon after his divorce from Rebecca, and Kim notes that he’s likely not ready to meet someone new.

Jimmy grabs Chuck on his way out and asks him to stay to watch his performance, and Chuck agrees. It’s Jimmy’s day and he hasn’t had many accomplishments worth celebrating in his life, so even though we all know how Chuck feels about Jimmy becoming a lawyer, he is willing to support him (at least for one day). Jimmy gets up on stage and performs ABBA’s “The Winner Takes It All,” the lyrics of which will become significant later on in the episode.

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Better Call Saul consistently surprises me, and this season has given me both Mike Ehrmantraut in a strip club and Chuck McGill performing karaoke with Jimmy. Initially the brothers perform a duet and Chuck is (gasp!) smiling while singing with Jimmy. But in true Chuck McGill fashion, he’s got to be better than anyone and he can’t stand to share the spotlight. He grabs the mic and starts performing on his own. Unlike everyone else, Chuck has a great voice (courtesy of the multi-talented Michael McKean) and he revels in the cheers from the crowd, made up largely of employees at his firm. Jimmy is so happy that he doesn’t seem to mind, but this small moment really encapsulates their relationship dynamic.

Chuck helps a wasted Jimmy to his apartment and into bed, all the while Jimmy is drunkenly rambling about symmetry and how they need to add another “M” to HHM. Chuck largely ignores this and gets him a glass of water and a trash can to puke in if necessary. In another surprising turn of events, Chuck decides to stay the night with Jimmy and even offers to make him pancakes in the morning. Here we see these two brothers as they once were—not just before their relationship deteriorated beyond repair, but as they were when Jimmy was a helpless child and Chuck played the father-figure role in his life. He is kind and tender with Jimmy, nurturing even, and as they lay in bed together, they revisit their ABBA duet.

410 chuck jimmy bed

This is the moment that finally broke me. Complicated as their relationship has always been, we are reminded here that there was once love between them. There is true familial intimacy as these adult brothers share a bed and sing together. Knowing the fate of their relationship, it’s excruciating to watch this moment because it reminds us that things could have been different. At this particular moment, a time when Jimmy had truly turned a corner and was excited and hopeful about his future, Chuck could have put his reservations aside and embraced the “New Jimmy”; he could have given him a chance and trusted that his transformation was real.

But, as we all know, he did the exact opposite of that. Maybe Jimmy was always going to be the guy that cut corners and was never going to be on Chuck’s level when it came to legal ethics, but at this moment there was still a chance. It forces us to wonder what would have happened if Chuck chose to support and nurture Jimmy’s law career, if he had taken his brother under his wing and guided him toward being the right kind of lawyer. Maybe Jimmy would have failed to live up to that standard regardless, but it would have been no one’s fault but his own. As it stands, Chuck bears a lot of responsibility for the way Jimmy ended up (even though he would never admit it). Jimmy’s resentment toward Chuck is not baseless, and the animosity he carries even after Chuck’s death is understandable. But seeing these brothers the way they once were makes what happens later in the episode that much more painful.

The first bit of emotional trauma comes in the form of Jimmy standing at Chuck’s grave on the anniversary of his death, pretending to talk to his dead brother when he’s really just mumbling random nonsense. This is not an honest display of grief—something all of us (especially Kim) have been waiting for all season. It’s meant as a show for some of Chuck’s colleagues who are in town for the law library dedication in Chuck’s name.

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Kim is waiting nearby in the car with provisions for Jimmy, who is planning on hanging around the cemetery all day waiting for anyone who might show up. At the end of last week’s episode, after their fight, Kim promised Jimmy she would help him become a lawyer again, and this scam has Kim’s fingerprints all over it. It’s similar to her Huell plan in that it’s based on the rehabilitation of Jimmy’s image to fix where he went wrong last time; he needs to appear sincere, and he needs to acknowledge Chuck. More than that, he needs to appear truly mournful. But more than that, I think it’s Kim’s hope that by forcing Jimmy to confront Chuck’s death as a part of their scheme to get him reinstated, that it will drum up an actual, sincere emotional response from him. But she doesn’t get that from the gravesite part of the plan because Jimmy is in full acting mode and appears completely untouched by the whole thing.

Phase two of the plan is Jimmy’s presence at the law library dedication at UNM. We see Hamlin giving a little speech about Chuck and being filmed by Jimmy’s UNM film squad. The three students have been enlisted to help spread the word that it wasn’t HHM but Jimmy who was the “anonymous donor” that paid for the reading room. Rich Schweikart shows up to pay his respects, along with a lot of important members of the legal community (but, to Jimmy’s dismay, no members of the bar association). Rich has also heard the rumor that Jimmy paid for the whole thing and asks Kim about it, but she plays coy, telling him that Jimmy would prefer to remain anonymous.

Jimmy is outside, smoking a cigarette and playing the grieving brother. He’s lamenting the fact that he’s spent $23,000 on this whole thing and none of his targets—the bar association members—are even in attendance. Kim assures him that the word will spread among the legal community and reach the bar members, but Jimmy is ready to see some results. For someone who frequently comes up with elaborate, multi-step plans that require planning and patience, Jimmy is surprisingly impatient to get to the endgame. Perhaps it’s the fact that this entire plan revolves around him confronting Chuck’s death and grieving him, and it’s making him want to crawl out of his own skin. He’d rather not think about him at all, but that’s not possible if he wants to get his license back.

He throws out a ridiculous plan to Kim, which includes his favorite judge, Judge Papadoumian, and a bit of light arson at her office. In Jimmy’s version of things, he plays the role of hero, saving her from the flames, and everyone will see what a great, selfless, brave guy he is. He knows it’s ridiculous and so does Kim, but it just shows where Jimmy’s head is at; he would rather literally walk through fire than have to sit alone with his thoughts about Chuck.

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Step three of the plan is for Jimmy to honor Chuck’s wishes in his will and serve on the board for the scholarship fund that Chuck has set up for deserving youth—the one that, as Kim rightly pointed out to Howard in “Breathe” (S4E2)—Chuck would never have given to Jimmy. It’s a tough pill for Jimmy to swallow, especially with the large portrait of Chuck looming above Howard’s head at the head of the conference room table. A parade of perfect, Straight-A students with sparkling resumes and extracurriculars come through for their interviews, but only one really interests Jimmy: Kristy Esposito. The one thing we learn in the brief snippet of Kristy’s interview is that she worked with elders, but in the deliberations we learn a bit more about her and why Jimmy (and only Jimmy) voted for her.

Jimmy asks that the rest of the board give Kristy, who they refer to as “the shoplifter,” another look. With all the talk of sincerity from the bar association members and from Kim, it is here that we actually see Jimmy being sincere in his defense of this girl, in whom he sees a lot of himself. In arguing for Kristy, who made a mistake but has since turned herself around, Jimmy is really arguing for himself. He tells the board that someone like Kristy, who isn’t perfect and has some experience on the other side of the law, brings something to the table that the other kids don’t. Howard seems to genuinely take Jimmy’s statements to heart and calls for another vote.

Of course, she doesn’t get it (although I genuinely believe that Howard threw her a vote the second time). Jimmy chases after her and tells her that she didn’t get the scholarship, and then gives her his version of a pep talk. He’s talking to Kristy, but he’s really talking to (and about) himself:

“You were never gonna get it. They dangle these things in front of you. They tell you you’ve got a chance but I’m sorry, it’s a lie because they had already made up their mind and they knew what they were gonna do before you walked in the door. You made a mistake and they are never forgetting it. As far as they’re concerned your mistake is just…It’s who you are, and it’s all you are…They’ll smile at you, they’ll pat you on the head, but they are never, ever letting you in.”

But Jimmy tells her there is hope, if she just takes what she wants, doesn’t play by the rules, cuts corners, and does anything she has to do to come out the winner. And when she does reach the top, he tells her, she should look down on them and revel in the fact that they hate her, rub their noses in her success, and make them suffer—after all, “the winner takes it all.” This is the Jimmy McGill approach to life, and he is imparting this “wisdom” to his young counterpart because he truly believes that he’s going to come out on top despite everything he has done. The first part of his speech to Kristy is sad but true and, as harsh as it may sound to her coming from a complete stranger whose background she is unfamiliar with, I think it’s actually a decent life lesson. But Part 2, where Jimmy is essentially hyping himself up and convincing himself that his strategies will ultimately make him a winner, is maybe not the best advice for a teenage girl still trying to get her life in order and figure out who she is and who she wants to be.

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I think Jimmy’s initial plea for the board to reconsider was at least partially about helping Kristy achieve a level of respect and success that he could never reach. Part of it was about himself, though, because most everything Jimmy does (especially these days) is purely selfish. It was an attempt at redemption by proxy, but it failed. The final straw is when his car won’t start and he just sits in the parking lot and has a good, long cry. There have been a lot of crocodile tears lately and it’s been a long while since we’ve seen Jimmy really and truly emoting; something he used to do quite frequently. As much as I would love to believe that the tears are for Chuck, they aren’t. Maybe a small part of it is Chuck, but it’s based in Jimmy’s lingering anger and frustration, and not in any sort of true grief over his brother’s death.

There are several occasions this season where I’ve believed we were seeing the death of Jimmy McGill but I think that this is really it, because the Jimmy McGill of the past was sincere, and now he has realized once and for all that sincerity is pointless and gets him nowhere. He will never be accepted for who he really is and so the only thing left to do is mourn that person and transform into somebody else, and we all know who that person is going to be. In the immortal words of ABBA:

I was in your arms
Thinking I belonged there
I figured it made sense
Building me a fence
Building me a home
Thinking I’d be strong there
But I was a fool
Playing by the rules

The gods may throw a dice
Their minds as cold as ice
And someone way down here
Loses someone dear
The winner takes it all
The loser has to fall
It’s simple and it’s plain
Why should I complain?

-ABBA, “Winner Takes It All”

Back at the apartment, Kim is getting all the prep work in order for Jimmy’s appeal to the bar association. She tells him that this is one time he can’t just wing it (though in the end that’s exactly what he does). At this point, he’s still feeling defeated, and he tells Kim that it doesn’t really matter what he says, they will still see him as “that guy”—but then he gets the idea to use Chuck’s letter instead of a prepared speech of his own. Perhaps, with his sincerity problem, letting Chuck speak for him will be better than anything he could say for himself. In hindsight, I’m not sure exactly how much of Jimmy’s endgame plan he had formulated at this point. Perhaps he already knew what he was going to do with that letter, or perhaps the seeds of the idea were just starting to germinate as he spoke with Kim about the hearing.

But before we get to the hearing and its aftermath, let’s catch up with Mike. He’s where we left him last week: searching for the escaped Werner. Mike correctly assumes that Werner had his wife Margarethe wire him money from Germany, and traces it to a specific Travel Wire location. He goes to the store and convinces the employee, Fred, to violate company policy and give him information regarding Werner. Mike is playing the role of Werner’s brother-in-law and tells Fred that Werner is a diabetic with dementia and the family is desperate to find him. He convinces Fred to let him look at the security footage to see what cab company picked Werner up, but the name isn’t visible from the camera angle.

Victor shows up at the store with Gus, who looks incredibly displeased with the recent turn of events. He asks Mike to show him the letter Werner left, in which he promises that he’ll return in a few days. Mike believes him and knows he has no intention of going to the cops, but Gus is not convinced. At the very least, it’s clear to Gus (and to Mike) that Werner is a bit of a wild card and cannot be trusted to play by the very strict rules he agreed to. Gus has already tracked Margarethe, who is on a flight headed for Denver. Mike correctly assumes that Gus’s guys will be waiting for her when she lands and track her to Werner’s location. Mike also knows that Gus is not inclined to show mercy to Werner and that his wife will be collateral damage, so he asks him to let him go another way: find Werner before he meets up with his wife and bring him back to finish the job. Mike doesn’t believe that the rest of the team is capable of finishing the job without Werner’s guidance, and thinks that Gus would be making a very expensive mistake if he got rid of him.

Mike springs into action, tasking his guys with calling all the cab companies and hotels they can. He has one of his guys read him the transcript from Werner and Margarethe’s conversation, in which they discussed going to the natural springs in Baden-Baden, and it occurs to him that Werner’s likely destination is one of the spas in the area—some of which have brochures displayed in a rack in the Travel Wire. He starts calling around to find out which one Werner is at, but unbeknownst to him, Lalo is watching him.

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Earlier we saw Lalo on his own, staking out the chicken farm/distribution center and taking meticulous notes on the layout and activity. The fact that Nacho was not with him (for this or any other part of the episode) seems to confirm my suspicion that Lalo doesn’t trust Nacho. If he thought he was solidly on Team Salamanca, he would have included Nacho in this fact-finding mission. But he’s flying solo, and we don’t know where Nacho is or how much he knows about Lalo’s plan. It’s become clear that Lalo is planning on cutting Gus out of the equation, and step one of that plan is to familiarize himself with Gus’s distribution method. After all, Don Eladio made it clear that Gus was the distribution guy; if Lalo can provide the same service as effectively as Gus, then the Salamancas can handle the entire operation on their own.

410 lalo stakeout

When Lalo spotted Gus, Victor, Tyrus, and the rest of the crew all heading out at the same time, he followed them, which led him straight to Mike at the Travel Wire. Lalo underestimates Mike, who picks up his tail almost immediately and manages to lose him at a parking garage with some strategically placed gum that jams the exit gate. Lalo smashes his way out of the garage at the expense of some bystander’s car, but Mike has gotten away and is making his way toward Werner’s hotel.

Lalo circles back to the TravelWire to figure out where Mike may be heading. At this point, Fred is suspicious of all the comings and goings regarding Werner and he refuses to give Lalo any information. While Fred is on a call, Lalo climbs up through the roof and jumps down behind the counter and it’s bye-bye Fred. I knew Lalo was capable of ruthlessness and violence, but this is the first time we’ve actually seen him resort to murder to get what he wants. He looks through the security video of Mike and sees him picking up the brochures, which leads him in the right direction.

We find Werner lounging by the pool with a cocktail, waiting for Margarethe. He receives a call, but it’s not his wife; it’s Lalo. He’s tracked him to the right place and is on his way, and he gets some vague information out of him regarding the super lab before Mike shows up and grabs the phone away. Though he doesn’t say anything into the phone, Lalo correctly assumes that it’s the “Michael” Werner was referring to. Mike hangs up and tells an apologetic Werner to get dressed. But Mike is in no mood for Werner’s apologies.

410 werner mike phone

He drives Werner to a desolate location at night, which is never a good sign in the BrBa/BCS universe. I think we all knew Werner was not long for this world the second Mike found out he escaped, but it’s still awful to have to watch it go down. Even though Mike tries to get Gus to go along with a Plan B scenario, Gus is adamant that Werner has to go. Gus is a risk-averse guy, and Werner is a huge risk at this point. He’s a good-hearted and sincere person and has been a friend to Mike, but the fact remains that he has broken Mike’s trust. Worse, he’s broken Gus’s trust, and now he has to pay the ultimate price. Gus offers to send someone to do it, but Mike says he’ll do it himself. He has to clean up his own mess, even if it means killing a man who had come to be his friend. Mike has learned his lesson about half measures and it’s full measure time.

At first, Werner doesn’t understand the gravity of his current situation and still thinks there’s a chance that Mike will allow him to spend a night with his wife and then bring him back to resume work. He asks to speak with Gus and try to make him understand, but Mike tells him that he’s lost everyone’s trust. It’s only then that Werner, looking around at the empty desert around him, realizes exactly what is happening. He starts trying to bargain, asking just to go home and promising to give back the money and never breathe a word to anyone, but nothing he says is going to be enough to change his fate.

This is the first of two major parallels to Breaking Bad in this scene. Werner’s attempt at negotiation with Mike is almost identical to Walter’s in “Full Measure” (BrBa, S3E13). In that episode, Victor brings Walter to the super lab where Mike is waiting to take him out per Gus’s instructions. Walter pleads with Mike, telling him he’ll cook for free, and telling him if he could only just talk to Gus he could make him understand. Mike tells him he can’t do it—the same words he says to Werner, only spoken much more harshly and with less emotion to Walter. In light of the events of “Winner,” the Breaking Bad scene takes on a deeper significance. Mike has been through this scenario before, only with someone he actually had a fondness for. Mike has disliked Walter from the very beginning, perhaps because he has many of the same flaws as Werner—a reckless disregard for Gus’s rules, the tendency to make rash decisions based on emotion—but without any of Werner’s charm and humility.

The other parallel is in Werner’s call to his wife. Mike tells him that Margarethe is being followed by Gus’s guys, and he needs to make sure that she gets on a plane home or she won’t be safe. During Werner’s call, he is forced to yell at her and tell her that he doesn’t want to see her in order to make her leave. This is reminiscent of the call Walter makes to Skyler to exonerate her in “Ozymandias” (BrBa, S5E14) although it’s nowhere near as cruel. Still, the general idea is the same—a phone call full of lies from a husband to a wife, meant to keep the wife safe. Of course Skyler knows that Walt was putting on a front where poor Margarethe will always remember her husband’s last words to her as harsh without understanding why, but the similarity is undeniable.

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In the end, after receiving promises that his wife and his men will be OK, Werner accepts his death at Mike’s hand. He knows that Mike takes no joy in having to do this and he makes it easy for him; he just walks out into the desert to admire the starry desert sky, and Mike puts a bullet in the back of his head. This is Mike’s first kill since the crooked cops who murdered his son. He went out of his way and took a vicious beating and a pay cut to avoid killing Tuco, and though he probably would have killed Hector if Gus hadn’t stopped him, that’s beside the point. He didn’t kill either Salamanca, both undeniably bad guys—but he did kill Werner, a good man who had become his friend. Much as I’ve been wondering when exactly Jimmy turns into Saul, I’ve also been wondering how Better Call Saul Mike turns into Breaking Bad Mike—this is it, this is how. After killing Werner at Gus’s behest, it will be that much easier to kill anyone that gets in Gus’s way.

As for Gus, he’s showing Gale the super lab in progress and Gale is absolutely blown away by it. He’s beyond excited and ready to start cooking, even in the lab’s unfinished form, but Gus insists they must wait until it is ready. Gale can tell Gus is in a bit of a mood so he excuses himself and goes back upstairs, meeting Mike for the first time on the landing. With just a look, Mike tells Gus that the Werner situation has been taken care of.

I’m not sure exactly where they go from here. Will the remaining Germans finish the job or be sent home? If they go, who will finish it? If they stay, how will Mike avoid the inevitable questions (especially from Kai) about Werner’s disappearance? Mike promised Werner that his men would be safe; will he be able to keep that promise? As far as Gus and Mike go, this was a major (and expensive) screw-up on Mike’s part and one that Gus is not likely to forget anytime soon. We know that Mike has Gus’s full confidence during the Breaking Bad timeline, so what will he have to do to get back in Gus’s good graces? Killing Werner himself was a good first step, but Gus is clearly still very angry that Mike allowed things to get so out of hand. How many bodies will have to drop before Mike is back in the circle of trust? And will one of them be Lalo?

Season 4 culminates with Jimmy’s bar association appeal, which takes place in the same room we visited earlier in the episode’s flashback teaser. There’s something so disturbing about the fact that Jimmy’s fate hangs on another performance in the room where he brought Chuck so low, and that this performance is based around Chuck as well. The ghost of Chuck has been haunting this entire episode and nowhere more than in the room where things went so wrong.

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Just before the hearing, Kim reminds Jimmy that Chuck’s letter is important, but it’s more important that he reads it the right way. In “Something Beautiful” (S4E3) she had a front row seat to his first recital of that letter, which was about as cavalier as humanly possible, and she wants to make sure that he doesn’t do a repeat performance. In the hearing, he begins to read the letter and it’s really not playing well. He stops pretty early on and admits to the bar members that he was hoping that the letter would move them, but that he’s decided that it’s not right—the letter should stay between him and Chuck. This gets their attention, and then he launches into a speech full of truths about his relationship with Chuck and his feelings about the law. To Kim, and to everyone else listening, it seems he has finally reached that elusive goal: sincerity. By the end he’s got Kim and some others tearing up with his brutal honesty and his pledge to “live up to the name McGill.” Finally, Kim has what she’s wanted all season: Jimmy’s honest feelings about Chuck and some sign that he’s got a heart and a soul buried under all that anger and bitterness.

But to her absolute shock and horror, it was all a lie—just another Jimmy McGill performance, only this time he was the Meryl Streep of bullshit. He may have been telling the truth (and to be fair, everything he said was true), but all the emotion behind it was a fabrication; it was just Jimmy reading the room and deciding to wing it when the letter wasn’t cutting it. He’s so proud of himself as he describes the way he worked the room, not even noticing that her initial excitement has completely waned. And then the kicker: now reinstated, he’s ditching the name McGill and practicing under the name Saul Goodman. The season ends with Kim staring after Jimmy in confusion as he walks off to officially become Saul.

410 kim end 2

There hasn’t been a season of Better Call Saul that I haven’t loved but Season 4 was quite a ride. The stakes for our characters have never been higher and the way they have navigated their challenges really made for a gripping ten episodes. To absolutely no one’s surprise, my VIP for the season is Kim Wexler (and Rhea Seehorn, who needs to win an Emmy or I riot). Kim’s journey this season completely defied all my expectations and I can’t wait to see where she goes next—especially once Saul Goodman officially enters the equation.

And now we wait, and Mondays are terrible again. In the meantime, I’ll be obsessively rewatching both Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad to find new and interesting things to (over)analyze and discuss. Thank you all for your support of 25YL and our coverage of Better Call Saul, and I’ll see you for season 5!


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